Let me put my cards on the table. I am no fan of Apple TV, at least not anymore. I did find my third-generation model indispensable, but basically for one reason, and that was Netflix. On occasion, I’d rent a movie from iTunes, and I was always on the lookout for the 99 cent specials. But I could do the same with such services as Walmart’s VUDU.
I did not acquire the fourth-generation version because it not only lacked 4K, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the new features. Having Siri help me find the programming I already knew about wasn’t important. The available games and other apps weren’t impressive either. Well, maybe to some people, but I’m not a gamer.
It also wasn’t appealing to pay $50 more (for the 32GB version), which further separated the price difference from the competition, particularly front runner Roku. Indeed, the Roku Ultra offered 4K and HDR when Apple released a model without one. That never made sense to me though, in retrospect, it may have been a matter of waiting for HDR standards to settle down.
Don’t get me started, but two HDR formats shouldn’t be so significant an issue, but it is. Cheap 4K sets get you 4K and that’s it. More and more affordable models do offer one or both protocols that improve color reproduction, but not always on every HDMI port. Sometimes one set works with only one even if it has both, and there have been various and sundry reports of inscrutable behavior, incompatibilities that make no sense whatever.
As regular readers and listeners to my radio show know, I haven’t used my Apple TV in more than three months. The reason is explained by the growing number of sets with increasingly usable smart features, in which you can access some streaming apps via the sets themselves. On 4K sets, at least some offer HDR on subset of apps, so there’s no fighting the HDR wars. You have no need of an accessory set-top box.
When VIZIO sent me a 2017 M-Series TV display to review (it’s a display because it doesn’t have a tuner), I put all the key features into play. It has a SmartCast app built in and a more full-featured version for iOS and Android users, accessing Google Chromecast. A small number of apps are built in, and I suppose more could be added via software updates. Some of these can be accessed via direct buttons on the remote. You have the most popular services that include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and VUDU, plus some lesser players. Using the SmartCast app on your smartphone, you can call up thousands more, including CBS All Access and loads of others.
It didn’t take long to notice that my Apple TV sat unused. I briefly wondered about the 4K version, but why? The services I used, such as they were, came with the set. Although Apple’s user interfaces for TV apps were supposed to be a big deal, the ones provided with SmartCast were just fine. In fact, such apps are fairly close to one another when it comes to the user interfaces.
I also wonder why Apple choose to boost the price to $179 for the entry-level Apple TV 4K, which merely increased the price spread over the others.
Does Apple have an end game? What about original TV content? But it doesn’t seem likely it’ll be restricted to Apple TV, considering the rest of the ecosystem reaches hundreds of millions of users. Remember, too, that Apple Music is also available to Android users, so you expect the TV shows will as well, in the spirit of Carpool Karaoke.
So what’s the end game for Apple TV?
Well, it does offer gameplay, casual games, and it was once assumed this was the best you’d get on such gear. Ditto for iOS.
But imagine, just imagine, if you could run genuine console games on an Apple TV. Is this at all feasible?
Well, consider the iPhone and the iPad. Every single year processing power soars, and gaming becomes faster and more fluid. According to a TechCrunch interview with Greg Joswiak, Apple’s VP of product marketing, manufacturers of gaming consoles need to watch out. Joswiak revealed that, “They’re bringing the current generation of console games to iOS.” He was referring to such titles as “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” designed to offer console-like and cross-platform gameplay with consoles and PCs.
Joswiak points out that, “Every year we are able to amp up the tech that we bring to developers. Before the industry knew it, we were blowing people away. The full gameplay of these titles has woken a lot of people up.” In comparison, console updates occur every four years or longer, thus iOS is improving at a much faster pace. Joswiak dismisses the competition from Android because of its extreme platform fragmentation. Roughly 90% of iPad and iPhone users are running the latest OS, thus making it more productive for developers to support the new features. With Android, it’s a small number, so it doesn’t make sense for developers to devote resources to support the latest and greatest.
So if iOS is matching or exceeding the power of a dedicated gaming console, how long will it take for similar processing power to appear on an Apple TV? With the proper gaming controllers, would Apple TV thus reach a point where it is fully competitive with those consoles? Is that part of Apple’s goal of boosting its importance and sales?
At one time, Apple gave gamers short shrift, or approached the market with relative disinterest. But iOS offers huge libraries of games. They have become more and more powerful in sync with the hardware. Console makers have lots to worry about, and maybe there’s even hope for Apple TV.
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